Monday, December 7, 2009

Aunt Becky Asks, I Answer

It seems that the only way to pull my head away from screaming children and overdue assignments is to offer me free stuff. I am all about the free stuff. So dear Aunt Becky (you know her, my dad's sister's husband's second cousin's married-in aunt's daughter--but we call her "Aunt" to be polite)* has posed this list of questions, promising a hefty prize of a super-awesome book for a random respondent. And since I am as random as they come, I figure I qualify!

Mommy Wants Vodka

1) Do you like sprinkles on your ice cream?

I like everything on my ice cream. Peanut butter, chocolate, fruit, and probably bacon. Sprinkles are made of sugar and fun to look at. That means they are essentially perfect.

2) If you had to choose one word to banish from the English language, what would it be and why?
I'm tempted to go with "irregardlness," but that's my English major coming out. I have learned to accept that the language changes, however, and I have to go along with it. So I guess I'd go with something like "the," just to see the chaos and creativity that would result from having it removed.

3) If you were a flavor, what would it be?
Well, a friend once said I was like lime juice: I go with almost everything. (But in retrospect, that may have only been because we drank a lot, and lime juice does go with most alcohol. Turns out it doesn't work with all that much else.) But I'd say I'm more like vanilla: I seem boring, but I'm actually surprisingly delicious.

4) What’s the most pointless annoying chore you can think of that you do on a daily/weekly basis?
Taking out the garbage, especially the diapers. I am notorious for tossing bags of garbage out the back door, where they surprise my husband when he gets home from work. He likes to come in, all flustered, and announce that there's a menace roaming the neighborhood, leaving garbage bags of diapers on people's back porches. At least now that it's below freezing, they won't smell so bad when I forget them out there.

5) Of all the nicknames I’ve ever had in my life, Aunt Becky is the most widely known and probably my favorite. What’s your favorite nickname? (for yourself)
All my college friends called me Kendar--technically, Kendar, Knight of the Dark and Oblivious Abyss. Started as a misspelling in an email, and it stuck. Kendra doesn't really lend itself to nicknames (plus I'd never really belonged anywhere enough to warrant a nickname), so that one was really special to me. Only a few people know about it now.

6) You’re stuck on a desert island with the collective works of 5 (and only five) musical artists for the rest of your life. Who are they?
I really have to go with Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger first. I have a lot of their stuff and still haven't tired of singing out loud to their albums, after years and years of subjecting the kids to it. Plus on a desert island, no one would complain that they didn't want to hear that song again. Then I'd probably add Flight of the Conchords, because you need that kind of humor on a desert island. After that, maybe ABBA (because sometimes you're in that kind of a mood) and the Tragically Hip, because they're my husband's all-time favorite band, and if he were there, he'd want to hear them; and if he wasn't, I'd miss him, and they'd remind me of him.

7) Everything is better with bacon. True or false?
So true. See #1. Even ice cream is probably better with bacon. I've never gone so far as to put bacon bits on my ice cream, but now that I think about it, that sounds really good.

8 ) If I could go back in time and tell Young Aunt Becky one thing, it would be that out of chaos, order will emerge. Also: tutus go with everything. What would you tell young self?
No one is actually looking. I've spent so much of my life convinced that I was being judged by everyone. And the truth is, most people aren't noticing me. Some are, and some are judging. But they're judging everyone, not just me. And they can go to hell. Everyone else is too concerned about being judged themselves. I wish I'd figured that out sooner.

Those were surprisingly fun questions. I'd love to see anyone else's responses to them!

* My dad does not have a sister. But if he did, I bet Aunt Becky and I would totally be related.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Ezra seems to have figured out that when I'm sitting at the computer, I'm a captive audience. Because every time I sit down, he magically appears with a question. For example, I sat the kids down with their lunch and opened the computer--yay, I'm going to check on a couple of blogs while the kids eat. And imediately:

EZRA: Mommy?

ME: What?

EZRA: Can I have more goldfish?

ME: Yes, but you have to eat your fish first.

EZRA: Now?

ME: You only ate one bite.

EZRA: But it's very hard to find things to eat when you're always telling me stuff.

ME: What? Never mind. Just eat your fish, okay?

EZRA: Okay... Mommy?

ME: Yes?

EZRA: What to red and yellow make?

ME: They make orange. See? (I hold up two Ikea kids' plates in front of the window and show him.)

EZRA: Oh. What do red and blue make?

ME: Purple. See?

EZRA: What do red and green make?

ME: Um, brown, I guess?

EZRA: Can you find a green plate and show me? And can I have more goldfish?

ME: You still need to eat your fish, honey.

EZRA: Mommy?

ME: Yes, dear?

EZRA: What does tan do?

ME: What do you mean, what does tan do?

EZRA: What happens if you stir it? What would it do? I like to know about what colors do. And why are some crackers crunchy? I like to eat them like this, slow. Mommy? What's inside wood?

At this point, I've stopped answering and am just grunting in his direction, because really? "What does tan do?" I don't even know how to start answering these questions! My kid is (clearly) brilliant, and I try to answer all his questions, often resorting to Google Images, my favorite thing. ("How do raisins get made?") But sometimes, I just have to nod and make random noises until his battery runs down and he's out of unanswerable questions, and we can just go find his red fireman hat, because tomorrow is Halloween.

Immediately after I wrote this, I turned around to check on Ezra, eating the slowest lunch of any person ever, and saw his hand covered in mustard. He's been repeatedly chastised for eating condiments instead of food, so I reminded him not to eat ketchup and mustard with his fingers, then put the two bottles away. He called to me from the table, "I won't do it anymore! I promise!" And I came back and told him it's okay, I'm not mad, I was just cleaning up. And he said, "Okay, but your eyes, they looked like this... like this... like this."  And he made a series of eye-rolling, face-scrunching expressions that caused me first to wonder if I actually look like that when I'm mad, and then to nearly dissolve on the floor with laughter. Literally from the day he was born, he has constantly surprised and challenged me. Sometimes he can get under my skin like no other person in the world. But Lord, I love that kid. He may be a challenge, but he is himself and will never, ever be anything else. And what a gift that is.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Coffee With the Buddha

I grew up in a suburb some distance from Minneapolis, far enough out that kids made a special trip to go there but most people didn't go that often, close enough that a few of our parents worked there. And when I was in high school--newly minted driver's license and the freedom that came with it, grunge and coffee culture on the rise--I suddenly discovered this entire city that had been just out of my reach. It had multiple universities filled with the most interesting people, it had one-way streets which I was constantly trying to go the wrong way on, and it had all these coffee shops.

There was this one coffee shop in particular. It sat (sits, though I only ever drive past it nowadays on the way to the pediatrician) right on the edge of the U of M campus, where the university meets the bars, which meet the vegetarian restaurants, which meet the low-income housing. It's an amazing conflux of places, and in those days, it was an amazing conflux of people. Students reading, professors grading, homeless people staying warm, young punked-up parents with their green-haired toddlers--they all roamed around together and somehow seemed to all enjoy one another.

I had recently started smoking (don't worry, I've quit since), and every possible evening was spent with my friends in that coffee shop, smoking, playing cards, and drinking--as often as not, Jolt. (Remember Jolt? Man, I could totally go for "twice the caffeine" these days.) And we always made friends. One night, a very intelligent, though incredibly superior, man taught me to play Go. He spent hours explaining the history and significance of every aspect of the game. I can explain to you the many ways in which Go reflects the culture from which it originates; I cannot tell you how to play it. Another night, we met a man who wanted to play cards with us. In hindsight, and with greater sympathy, I realize he was almost certainly quite ill. At the time, he seemed simply entertaining. He didn't follow the rules of rummy and kept slapping down cards at unpredictable times, and he repeatedly tapped his cigarette over his head, even after we offered him an ash tray. Another man just stared at the fish tank all night, every night. One evening, my friend was waiting for us in line and started talking with the fish tank guy. He was a little confused, hard to follow, but really kind and easy to talk to. Turned out, most people were.

One night I was there alone--maybe I'd just been dying to get out of the house, maybe I was waiting for my friends, I don't remember. But I got to talking with the guy at the next table. He was probably in his 20s, graduated from the university not too many years before, just hanging out and reading the paper. And while we were talking about whatever it was, we hit on the topic of teaching and learning. And he told me a story about an introductory philosophy course he had taken. It was taught, he said, by a very well-respected man who was in every way the stereotypical professor--glasses, crazy graying hair, etc. (I always think of him as looking like Richard Dreyfuss, possibly because my dad is also a college professor and he looks a little like a cross between Richard Dreyfuss and Geraldo Rivera, but that's neither here nor there.) They were discussing Buddhism and the professor was explaining its basic tenets and the life story of the Buddha that had given rise to Buddhism. In the back of the class was a kid who was sort of the classic dumb college kid--got in by the skin of his teeth, athletic scholarship, taking this class and hoping it would be easy. And when the professor asked for comments or questions, this student burst out with, "Buddha was a cool fuckin' dude!" The class, of course, all laughed, especially my companion and his friends. When the class was over, the professor asked them to stay behind, and he asked why they had laughed. They said it was just such a strange thing to say about Buddha. And the professor thoughtfully replied, "Buddha was a cool fuckin' dude. And it just goes to show how unenlightened you are that you would laugh at another man's enlightenment."

My new friend didn't say much after that, at least not much that stayed with me. He left or went back to his paper. My friends showed up, or I went home. I don't remember. But I have always remembered that story. This morning, I overheard a person I didn't know saying that someone else I didn't know was "a cool dude." And for the millionth time since that night, I thought of that story. Moments of true enlightenment are rare and usually arrive unnoticed until later. But that was one for me. Like everyone else, I struggle with the daily battles, internal and external, that make up my life as I try to make sense of my world. And like the student in that philosophy class, I hope that I will always be able to see the truths that plainly, that I will always be able to speak them so clearly, and that I will always be brave enough to announce my own enlightenment. And that I will always be enlightened enough never to laugh at another man's.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You Capture

This week, I'm joining in on a photo project called "You Capture." I thought it would be nice to have a project to think about all week, as well as encouraging me to pull out the camera. And I learned a couple of things: first, it's really fun to take pictures. Second, I am a lousy photographer. I think I actually got better results messing with the pictures on Picasa than I did trying to use all the fancy features on the camera. But I had a lot of fun with the assignment, "Still Life." And here are the results!

Posted by Picasa
This is the book shelf in Zachary and Ezra's room. The shelf itself was a hand-me-down when Zachary was born, and I know it had a long life before it came to us. It was always awkwardly shoved in a corner until we finished the construction and built Zachary and Ezra their brand-new big bedroom. Now it has a special place in the corner and the kids regularly go there to select books. Zachary's reading has recently exploded and in addition to being able to read a lot more by himself, he's more interested in longer stories and chapter books. So I gathered all the chapter books together, and on the lower shelf are all the I-Can-Read and similar books. One of the things I love about this picture and this space is the juxtaposition of the old and the new, the old bookshelf with the brand-new reader, the Wizard of Oz and Ramona books that were mine when I was little alongside the Magic Tree House and other new books that we're discovering together. Watching my kids grow up helps me to remember a lot about what it was like.

Posted by Picasa
On a completely different note, this is a fresh-baked loaf of bread. A few years ago, we realized we were spending tons of money on nice artisan bread, when we (which is to say my husband) could just be making it. And a Sunday tradition was born. It's been enough years now that the kids don't know anything different than Sundays spent kneading and rising, always making a small roll, or "circle bread," for each of the kids, the smell of wild rice and sourdough filling the kitchen. As my kids get older and more aware of themselves and their peers, I realize that I am setting examples, establishing traditions, creating memories. And that's a lot of pressure. It's nice every once in a while to be reminded that those things don't have to be high-pressure, perfect creations. The best memories are going to be the ones that were created organically, that were special to our family because that's who our family is. Like Sundays with fresh-baked bread.

So let me know what you think. How did the pictures turn out? I have to admit that I liked them a lot more once the pressure of taking the picture was off and I was able to think about why I wanted to take that picture in the first place. Do you have any thoughts on the nature of Still Life? What would you want to capture?

Monday, October 12, 2009

How to give three kids a bath

For anyone who has never attempted this, I offer you a tutorial on getting three children clean.

1. Inform said children that it is bath time. Listen to the oldest protest that he's not done building the Lego boat that, incidentally, will never be done. Listen to the middle one insist that he has to take bath first--or is it second? No, wait, he wants to go first. Probably. But he feels very strongly about whichever one it is. Chase the little one as she high-tails it to the bathroom, shouting "Bath!" Try to intercept her before she throws everything she can reach into the tub.

2. Fill the bathtub. Try to find the exact point at which the oldest can easily dunk his head, while the youngest will not simply tip over and drown. Insist, despite many arguments, that no, you don't have to leave the water running through the entire bath. Wish you had never started that when the 6-year-old was a baby, because now you pay for it at every bath. Agree that perhaps bubbles would be nice. Curse the fact that you didn't think to bring dish soap into the bathroom, and if you go get it now, the toddler will plunge headfirst into the tub. Try to convince them that a bath without bubbles is also fun. Lose argument, and finally fill the tub with hand soap, which makes reasonable bubbles. Consider getting some (surprisingly expensive) bubble bath just to prevent these arguments.

3. Tell youngest that she can now put the bath toys in the tub. Help her locate the cabinet that houses the toys and lift out the plastic tub in which you store them. Take a moment to feel good about yourself for coming up with such an elegant solution to the storage of all those wet toys. Have that feeling taken away as youngest child throws all the toys into the bath, including the soap, splashing water all over the floor, then hurls in the plastic tub as well.

4. Tell middle and youngest that the bath is ready. Lift them into the tub and try to keep one ear out for the oldest, playing in the next room. Pray that he doesn't choose this moment to jump off his bed, decide he simply must glue things, or act on any of the other bad ideas he seems to be full of lately. Tell youngest not to drink bath water. Admire middle child's ability to stick his nose in the water, but clarify that it doesn't really get all his hair wet. Tell youngest not drink bath water. Try to get middle child's hair wet, fighting with him about when his hair is actually wet enough to wash. Tell youngest not to drink bath water, and take cup away. Sigh, as she replaces cup with a washcloth, which she then sucks on.

5. Conclude that they are both relatively wet and try to wash them. Agree that maybe they can wash themselves, and besides, the water is pretty soapy anyway, right? Hand middle child bottle of shampoo, and try to stop him before he pours the entire bottle into his hand. Remind him, after he dunks hand in the water, that he was supposed to put that soap on his body and hair and get clean. Try again. Put soap on youngest child's hair while she tries to steal it. Pour a small amount in her hand so she will hold still and get washed. Figure that she's probably pretty clean, and you're losing your patience anyway. Rinse them both amid much shrieking.

6. Tell children that it's almost time to get out. Remind youngest that if she stands up in the tub, she will have to get out. Try not to laugh as she smiles and sits down every time you say this. Insist that it's almost time. Remind them that the time has almost come. Inform them that it's time to get out now, and try to ignore the shocked cries that it can't be time to be done yet! Lift middle child out and dry him off as quickly as possible, while he tries to run away, across the wet and slippery bathroom floor. Tell oldest that his turn has come. Inform him that, at six years old, he doesn't need to be quite so concerned about getting undressed all alone in the room. Give in and remove youngest from the tub so that oldest can get in. Try not to slip on the wet floor as you carry youngest off to get diapered and dressed. Tell oldest that you're running late so he's going to have to get clean right away.

7. Get youngest dry and start getting her diapered. Stop to inform middle child that he has his underpants on backwards, and he's putting his legs in the arm holes of his pajamas. Try to find youngest's pajamas. Swear that you left them here, and tear drawer apart while she tries to get the ball point pen you left on the changing table. Give up and put her in leggings and a sweat shirt. She can wear them tomorrow too. Help middle child find the arm holes in his pajamas. Pick towels up off the floor and brush off the dog hair. Call to oldest that he needs to be getting clean. Get a very noncommittal "Okay!" in response.

8. Turn on whatever is on Nickelodeon (please be Spongebob) while you check on oldest. See that he is still mostly dry and has been "swimming" around the tub, sliding on the slanted back of the tub in a way you explicitly told him never to do. Try not to get upset and tell him that he really, really needs to get clean now. Go check on younger two, and take dog bone away from youngest child. Return to oldest child, and see that he's putting soap into dry hair. As calmly as possible, offer to get it wet. While you're there, quickly wash and rinse his hair. Tell him he really needs to get clean now, and go check on the younger ones. Yay, Spongebob! That buys you at least 10 minutes of TV hypnosis; maybe you can check your email tonight before you all fall asleep. Respond to oldest child's calls that he's ready to get out--now!

9. Provide oldest child with a towel to stand on and another to dry with. Agree to dry his hair. Feel a little frustrated that he won't do it. Feel a little grateful that this great big person will still let you dry his hair. Send him off to get dressed and go clean the bathroom. Empty the bathtub and start removing toys. Curse the stupid plastic toy tub, now as wet as the toys it holds. End up drying the tub with a towel and putting it away. Go check on oldest and find him yelling at middle child that he needs "to be alone right now" to get dressed. Giggle a little at the fact that he is naked while yelling at his brother that he needs privacy to dress. Remind oldest that he needs to take care of his dirty clothes and towel after he gets dressed. Go check on youngest and take the dog's bone away from her again. When oldest child emerges from his room, go check and resignedly put away his dirty clothes and wet towel.

10. When all children are dry and dressed, turn on a show for them, collapse onto the couch, and count the hours until you can go to bed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Flying Rodents and Nudity

When I was junior in college, I did a 6-month study abroad program and got back in June, at the end of the school year. What this meant was that while all my friends were sorting out their housing arrangements for the coming (and presumably final) school year, I was off trying not to get malaria and getting a lovely staph infection instead. So largely via email--which, in 1993, was not the fun and user-friendly experience it is now--I tried to set up living arrangements long distance.

Thus it was that I arrived, the following August, at the house I had agreed to share with four other girls. One of them, I knew; she had shared an apartment with another friend of mine, so I'd seen her pretty often. One, I had never met and knew only as the quiet and kind of scary friend of the other girls. One, I had known for a while and she was a pretty good friend of mine. (Of course, just to show that I'm not always great at picking friends, what I didn't know was that over the next few months, she would have many screaming tantrums, repeatly get engaged to a friend of ours and then break it off, and finally she would move out, leaving all her things and a big hole in the rent check for several months until we got a new roommate.) And the last girl was someone I'd gone to high school with but hadn't really known until college. Between shared friends and a shared hometown, Stacy and I had grown pretty close, and she was mostly the one that I was looking forward to living with.

The house had been split at one point, and there were still two doors--one upstairs, one downstairs--that could be dead bolted shut to split the house into two apartments. There were two bathrooms, five bedrooms, and two kitchens. It was an odd setup but it worked well for us. What didn't work well, from the moment I arrived in the house, was the bedroom that had been assigned to me while I was away. Of the five bedrooms in the house, I got the one with no windows, the one literally under the stairs, the one that was only a bedroom in the sense that a bed would fit into it if you tried. I was pretty unhappy that this decision to give me the crappy bedroom had been made without consulting me, but when I got to the house and saw it, I was just exhausted. I had been driving all day, all my things were still in the truck parked outside, it was late, and I just wanted to go to bed. Fortunately there was a bed already in the room, so I borrowed a blanket, took out my contacts, stripped down to my t-shirt and underwear, and crawled into bed.

A couple of minutes later, I heard a strange sound in the room. It was a sort of a flapping, whooshing sound. I didn't have my contacts in and my glasses were in the truck with the rest of my worldly belongings, so it took a moment for me to identify the weird little flying shadow. But when I did, I leapt into action. Well, figuratively leapt. Actually, I wrapped the blanket around me, including my head, and I dropped to the floor. I scurried out of the bedroom and up the stairs, whimpering all the while. Finally I made it to Stacy's room, and I knocked on the door as politely as I could. When she answered, I threw open the door and cried, "Stacy, I can't see, there's a bat in my room, and I'm not wearing any pants!"

And bless her heart, she just scooted over on the bed and said, "Hop in."

That year probably did more than any other to change my life and turn me into the person I am now. It was full of independence, romance and foiled romance, academic achievement and frustration, and the realization that soon enough, we were going to be expected to do something with our lives. And through it all, I had these amazing people who, no matter what, were always willing to move over and make room for me, whether or not I had pants on.

Stacy and I have seen less of each other in recent years, though we try. It's hard, as your lives change, to keep in touch as much as you'd like. But there's something about the changing seasons, school starting, watching my own kids grow up and make friends, that makes me miss her terribly. I want to stay up late playing (and drinking) gin, talking about everything and nothing. I want to hear all about her job, her house, her love life. I want to show her my kids, my projects. I think I'll email her, see if she's free sometime soon just to get together and remember why we were friends in the first place. And to remind her that, no matter how much time goes by, there's always room for a good friend.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Just How Lame Am I?

Here's a pop quiz, just to see how well you know me.

How sadly, embarrassingly, craptacularly lame am I? So much so that...

A: Not only am I still nursing Matilda (something is in and of itself not a source of embarrassment), but, at 18 months old, I am still nursing her to sleep (that is). From the time she was born, she was in our bedroom, and I've always nursed the babies to sleep when they were little. Zachary took to the pacifier right away, and Ezra decided it was pure gold around his first birthday, but Matilda has never thought it was anything more than slightly amusing--definitely not comforting. Around her first birthday, it seemed like time to put my foot down and insist that she learn to put herself to sleep. But then construction started and Ezra was moved into our bedroom with her for the duration; it was hard enough to get them both to sleep at all, never mind if she was fussy because she didn't get to nurse to sleep. Almost as soon as the construction ended, we left for a vacation--11 days in a pop-up camper together, again not time to insist that she learn to put herself to sleep. Now we're home, and she's in her own room, and it would seem to be the time. But she's decided that now is the time for teething and unexplained diarrhea, plus the fact that my husband fell on some rocks and seriously damaged his shoulder. So anything that leads in the direction of a good night's sleep ranks above theories about parenting. But seriously, at this rate, I'll be having to stop into her kindergarten class to nurse her before rest time. It's getting out of hand.

B: Back in March, I slipped up a flight of stairs and broke my wrist. Fortunately it's my right wrist and I'm left handed. But that was not fun, having to explain over and over again that no, I'm not being mistreated in any way, I honestly fell up a flight of stairs and did this to myself. It's healed fine, but it still gets sore sometimes, especially when it's expected to sit in a position under pressure for more than about ten minutes, like, say, when I'm nursing Matilda to sleep for the second time that night. Then that mother aches like nobody's business, and all I want is to move it so it will stop hurting, but I know that if I do, she will wake up and all hell will break loose. And it's all because I can't climb a flight of stairs like a normal person.

C: I can't boil an egg. I can boil water and put an egg in it and take it out a while later, but no matter what I do, I always end up with slightly soft-boiled eggs that I then have to peel and put in the microwave because, of course, you don't know that it's soft-boiled until you peel it and it feels too soft, and at that point, you're not really going to start the water boiling process all over at the beginning. I honestly feel like I end up pulling out "The Joy of Cooking" every time I want a hard-boiled egg, and it's really ridiculous. Maybe I need to laminate the instructions and tape them to the inside of the refrigerator so that at least I can pretend that I can boil a damn egg without instructions. Or maybe I can try to convince the kids that eggs are supposed to be that way, that there was something wrong with all the hard-boiled eggs they've ever seen and eaten, and that Mommy's way is actually superior in a way she can't quite articulate.

or D: All of the above.

What do you think?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I want my baby back, baby back, baby back

Part of me misses my old film camera. It was just so simple. You take pictures, then (eventually, perhaps years later) you take them in and have them developed. Then you have film and pictures. How simple! How tactile!

Now I have this (lovely) digital camera. And it's so strange. In the same way that Mp3s and even CDs are weird and scary to me because really, how to they get sound onto that and how do they get it out, and how many ways are there to break it? I'm a little leery of the camera's memory card. So when we got home from our vacation, I immediately thought, "I must transfer all those photos to the computer." You know, so that I can forget to order prints and spend the next several hours messing with Picasa to get them just so.

And this is the first photo that shows up on the memory card:

That's Matilda, who will be 18 months old on September 3rd. There are 62 photos still in the camera from that day and the next, the day she was born, the first time her daddy held her, the first time she met her brothers, the first time she saw her grandpa. And I can't seem to get rid of them. They're in the computer (probably in several places) and backed up on another memory card, just in case. And somewhere I have prints. But there's something about deleting them from the memory card in the camera that I can't handle. Is it that if I delete the pictures, that time is gone for good? Is it that if anything happened to the pictures, I'm afraid I would lose that precious memory? I had no such problems with the film when the boys were born. I developed the pictures, then stuck the film in a drawer.

This is the picture that I actually wanted to show you:

While we were on vacation, Ezra got really into pooping on the potty. This is a pretty big deal, since, though he's been pretty good--if not reliable--about peeing in the potty, poop has been harder to come by. And at the same time, Matilda has decided she must spend all day, every day putting on clothes. So it logically follows that as soon as we got home from our camping trip, Ezra had to pull out his coveted shark underpants and prove that he is big enough to wear them, by spending all his time on the potty. (Which is way easier now that going potty doesn't involve pulling three kids in the wagon half a mile to the bathrooms.) And Matilda took that opportunity to swipe and put on the shark underpants. They're both so very proud of their accomplishments!

Zachary goes to first grade in a week and a half. Ezra is now officially too big for me to carry up the stairs. Sometimes I wonder if I really do let Matilda get away with more than I let the boys do at her age; my husband insists that it's true. And if so, is it because she's a girl and there's some secret sexist in me who can't stop her? Is it, as I sometimes think, because of the way she came to be with us? She was a surprise, one of those "Oh my god, what are we going to do now?" surprises. And I don't ever, ever want her to feel like she is anything less than the perfect completion of our family. Or is it just that I can feel these years, these baby years, slipping away, and I can't stand to let go just yet? How is it possible that the waxy, cranky little thing I see in that picture has already turned into this person who wants to dress herself all day and prefers one cup over another?

Maybe I'll hold onto the pictures a little longer, since I clearly can't keep the babies.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What would happen if a 17-month-old drank most of a can of Pepsi?

Seriously... does anyone know? Because I left a can on the coffee table and then got wrapped up in some baked on crap on a cookie sheet, and the next thing I know, Ezra's walking into the kitchen telling me that he thinks Matilda is drinking pop. And then Zachary appears with a nearly empty can and tells me he got it from her hand. And when I go out to the living room, she's looking especially bright-eyed and her shirt and pants are soaked and she smells like baby and Pepsi.

Though I'm not a health food nazi, I don't give my kids caffeinated soda; so other than whatever is in the occasional M&M, she's never had caffeine. I'm worried. Very, very worried.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Does this mean I'm crazy?

I love the word "vicious." As a total word geek (when I was little and learning to read, I actually used to see the words people were saying up over their heads, like a green running caption), it always reminds me of "viscous." So instead of a "vicious rumor," I always picture something slimy and slow-moving, which is much more humorous.

There is this joke: Micky and Minnie Mouse are in counseling, and after Micky explains the reasons they're there, the therapist says, "I understand you're upset, but I don't think it will help to call her crazy." To which Mickey replies, "I didn't say she was crazy. I said she was fucking Goofy!" I think of this joke every single time I am forced to watch "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse."

I had a dream the other night that I wrote a song called "God is an Atheist." It was a huge hit. Then, because I apparently have no scruples in my dreams, I sold the rights to my song to a right-wing religious group, which changed the lyrics to "God is a Christian." I woke up and thought this was such an odd thing to "come to me in a dream," as it were, and I couldn't possibly be the first person to have come up with this phrase. Thanks to Google, I know I'm not. It got over 7,000 hits, including an actual popular song, which I had never heard of before.

Am I watching too much late-night drama on TV, or spending too much time with only small children and myself for company?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


My cell phone just rang. My cell phone never rings. Everyone knows that I'm always home, and I never answer it anyway. I have it so I can call from the grocery store and ask what that other thing was that I was supposed to get. So there I was finding my purse, which I had left on the kitchen table, then struggling with the zipper, because Ezra decided to be helpful and zip it (I have never zipped my purse, and now I know why). Then I had to find the phone in the recesses of the purse, while it blared "Flight of the Bumblebee" at me. I finally found it and saw "mom-cell" on the display. Of course. She's the only one, other than the occasional telemarketer, who calls that number.

I answered it and was told, "Jeanne is gone."

One of my mom's oldest friends, she was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago. Particuarly because of its unspecified origin, they attacked it with everything the local hospital and the Mayo Clinic had. And a couple of months ago, she started to improve. I should have realized she had merely been granted more time (of course, isn't that all we ever have? never all the time in the world, only more than right now, if we are lucky). She was able to attend a famliy reunion, spend time with her sons and grandchildren, and go on an annual trip with her girlfriends to the Boundary Waters. Then the cancer regained its strength and slowly took all hers. Last week they decided it was time to stop treatment, to let go, to get ready to let her go.

I am full of grief for my mom, for Jeanne's children and her dear grandchildren. For her husband, whose great joy in life has been sharing a tandem bike with his wife--now left without a partner. I am soberly reminded that there are no guarantees, that even "remission" does not mean "cured." That a time will come when I must say my goodbyes as well.

But while I think these things, life goes on. Matilda insists that she must eat noodles like the big kids, which not only means using silverware, but for some reason, eating them directly off the serving spoon. So one noodle after another goes onto the spoon, then she spends most of a minute trying to slurp it off with her lips. Ezra eats his favorite lunch with unbridled enthusiasm, saying things like "Thanks, Pishy, Pishy," then laughing hysterically. Zachary shows me that he has indeed eaten his broccoli and then is excused to go play with his new Batcave, where I hear him telling stories to himself about buying gas and never stopping until the job is done.

I am sad, but oh so happy. For in the same moment, my heart is full of aching grief for a mourning family--and aching gratitude for the family I have.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Coward's Guide to Courage

How do you teach your child to be brave... especially when you don't want to?

This is something I've been mulling over for a long time. I feel like I've spent Zachary's entire life, starting from when he was three days old and didn't want to sleep alone, trying ride the line between protecting him and teaching him self-reliance. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that though I want him to be brave, I don't want to have any part in the learning. And I suppose that that's because, at heart, I am really a giant coward.

I was floored when, at the age of 2 or so, Zachary was visiting my mom and she stood him on the kitchen counter and encouraged him to jump off it into her arms. She insisted that this was a game she'd played with my brother all the time when he was little; I insisted that we were trying very hard to get him to stay on his bottom when he was on high things like the kitchen counter! And so it's gone.

In a couple of days, Zachary will be six years old. He has mastered kindergarten and will go to first grade in the fall. He made friends, listened to the teacher, and didn't wet his pants (I don't know about him, but that was really my biggest fear). He has made friends, all by himself, with a little boy down the street and goes over there to play, without me, though his friend's mom does come get him, since I'm not yet okay with him walking down and across the street by himself. He's reading well, likes to play soccer and video games, and helps out with the younger kids. Let me be clear: He is a wonderful, well adjusted kid.

But he lacks courage. He won't ride a bike--with training wheels--because he's afraid he's going to fall. I try my hardest to be honest with my kids, so I tell him yes, you probably will fall, just like you fell when you were learning to walk. But it won't be the end of the world. I fell all the time; in fact, my sister used to ride her bike into parked cars all up and down our street. But we kept trying and eventually figured it out. He doesn't like to try anything new, because of the infinite number of things that he things may go wrong. We've spent months and thousands of dollars on turning Ezra's room into his and Ezra's room. And last night, he was ecstatic to move in. Until it was time to go to sleep, when he started crying and crying. Dad came up and lay on the floor in his room, until Zachary said it was okay, he could go. Not five minutes later, he was downstairs, sobbing, saying things about how the room was just too different and he couldn't sleep and red was suddenly a scary color. He ended up in bed with me all night.

And while I find myself so frustrated with this apparent lack of courage, I think that it's not all his personality; some of it is mine. Courage is, after all, simply acting in the face of fear. And I don't like to see my kids scared. I don't like to see them feeling unsafe, frightened, wanting someone to tell them that they will be fine, that they will always be safe. Rather, I like being able to tell them that I will always keep them safe, that nothing bad will ever happen to them--because at heart, I am the hugest coward there is. And apparently the hugest hypocrite as well. Because I ask my son to take a chance, to try something new, to face his fears and act anyway. But I don't face my own fear, the fear that someday, something bad may actually happen to my kid. And I don't quite know how to reconcile my own cowardice with my desire for him to live a life of courage.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Where have I been?

Thank you so much to Jasmine for letting me know that I am not alone in the world and that there actually are people who read this blog--when I get around to writing in it!

It's been a pretty busy summer; I'm a little inclined to say lousy, but let's go with busy instead. If you are ever inclined to do any major home renovation, take a deep breath and ask yourself if it's truly worth it. The first week in May, we broke ground on an addition to the house. The second week in June, Zachary finished school and has since been home. Around the middle of June, we lost the use of Ezra's room, since they knocked out the wall to expand the room so the boys can share it; since then, he's slept in our room. Since Matilda is already sleeping in there, this almost immediately meant that he stopped napping. A couple of weeks later, we lost the upstairs bathroom when they ripped it apart to add onto it, and we lost much of the use of the basement bathroom, since they tore apart the ceiling in there to get to the pipes. Somewhere in there, we were also informed that we needed a new roof and that insurance ought to pay for it; but of course we had to fight with claims adjustors for a few weeks.

Last week, I got an email from the mother of the victim of Matilda's biting; she'd been bitten again on Friday, and they decided to take a couple of weeks to decide what to do next. I cannot overstate the anxiety this created in me. I have already been all worked up about the biting, have taken two classes about it, and have consulted my child care licensor and another child care provider, who is the person I go to whenever I have a question. I have done--and am doing--all I can, and now it's just a matter of waiting to see if it gets better. I understand that's a lousy thing to hear when it's your kid getting bitten, but it's also pretty upsetting when you feel like you're the only person in the world who doesn't think your 16-month-old is a little monster. There actually hasn't been a single biting incident in the two weeks that this baby has been gone; and though I don't blame the other baby at all (she is just a baby, I realize that), it's so much less stressful when she's not here and I don't have to wait, poised, to see if Matilda is going to strike.

So yesterday this family gave me their notice that they're going to pull their daughter out of my day care. After a couple of weeks to think it over, I'm not surprised or extremely upset. I've talked with a lot of people about it and believe that she's a little caveman, not a bad person, and though I can't tolerate biting, I can accept that it's common for kids her age.

The house is almost done. Though the backyard is a mud pit, the bedroom and bathroom are just about done; I think the boys are going to move in tonight. We tried to find a baby sitter and only found a guy who kind of creeped us out and now won't stop emailing to ask why we didn't hire him. We decided to use my husband's nephew instead, and he was great the first weekend but just didn't show up last weekend. We have a woman who comes every two weeks and cleans the main floor of the house, making our lives easier and my father-in-law's room a more pleasant place for him to live; she also didn't show up, for the fourth week in a row. I need a haircut. It's dumb, but it really bothers me because I have short hair and have been in in the "I need a haircut" stage for at least a month.

Today I had a screaming match with Ezra during nap time. He wouldn't stop screaming, and eventually it made me scream, and there was a lot of screaming and crying, from both of us. I feel like I haven't had more than three seconds in a row to call my own since April. Sorry if this sounds bitchy, but I can't tell you how good it feels just to complain about it all, to get it out and admit that there is all this stuff that is bothering me. As I've been writing, the kids have been eating supper--eating ketchup with their fingers instead of eating actual chicken dipped in the ketchup, insisting that they give their crackers to the dog and then needing new ones, wanting to "try something" on me that they saw on TV. They're being kids--my delightful, annoying kids. Tonight I'm going to help the boys move into their new room, and sometime soon Matilda will move into her new room, Zachary's current room. And then I will have a bedroom with only adults in it, something that has been true only sporadically since Zachary was born almost six years ago.

I keep thinking of a line from The Simpsons, one of my favorite shows. Homer is upset about something, as usual, and says, "Why do I have three kids and no money? Why can't I have no kids and three money?" I admit, I feel that way sometimes, especially about the total absence of space and time to call my own. I've never had high financial aspirations, but space and time used to be things I could claim for myself. Sometimes I wish I could have "three space" and "three time," but most of the time, most days, I'm still overwhelmingly grateful to have three kids instead. Especially ones as delightful and annoying as mine.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Truly Awesome Book

Some time ago, I had one of those really amazing internet experiences where someone sends you a link to something, which then refers to an article, which is featured in a blog, which mentions something else, and before you know it, you've discovered this whole part of the universe that you otherwise would not have known about. (Though I don't know how it came to be that I had that much free time.)

And in the end, I discovered An Awesome Book, which is really one of the greatest discoveries I've ever made. (Even better because I found it on my own, not because Amazon said I would like it.) Really. You should check it out. It has the overall sound of Dr. Seuss, with that lovely rhyme scheme and incredible imaginative world it creates. But lest you think this is someone trying to be another Dr. Seuss, the look is all his own. The illustrations look like they were done with colored pencils and have that uneven quality in the color that makes it feel so personal, as if they were drawn just for you, so you could have a book all your own. And the story is one that every child should hear, a simple message: Dream Big. If you follow the link, you'll be able to read the entire book online, which Zachary and Ezra have wanted to do just about every day. And though I am always a fan of getting things for free, I actually ordered a copy and it arrived just a few days ago. Now we have to read it all the time.

I will admit that it made me cry the first time I read it, and it still gets me a little choked up every time. But unlike some books, which are supposedly written for children but clearly have adults in mind (like "Love You Forever"), this one is very compelling to kids. When we read it, we talk about what kinds of dreams they have, how you make your dreams come true, what it means when a dream dies.

There is a marvelous sense of humor in the book and in everything he writes. To give you a sense, in the copyright information, he suggests: "PLEASE SHARE. DON'T STEAL. IT MAKES PEOPLE UNHAPPY. I HAVE A DRAGON. HE WILL CRY."

So don't make his dragon cry. Make your kids happy, and check out a really awesome book.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

So Long, Fortress of Solitude

I posted a while ago about my relationship with the bathroom. It's been an emotional one, full of missed chances to take advantage of such small joys as peeing by yourself. But my bathroom is no more. Literally. My bathroom is no more. In the bastardized words of John Cleese, my bathroom has ceased to be. It is an ex-bathroom.

You see, we live in a 1958 house that is, really, much too small for our family at its current size. My father-in-law has a bedroom on the main floor, technically the master bedroom, and Ezra has the other bedroom on the main floor. In the basement, my husband and I share a bedroom with Matilda, and Zachary sleeps in what is really a study, across the hall from us. If I ever want a decent night's sleep, we have to get her out of our room--and so a plan was born. We're adding on to the house. We knocked out the wall of Ezra's room and, next to it, the bathroom, extending both those rooms into the backyard 10 feet. When the project is done, Zachary and Ezra will share a nice big bedroom, and we'll be able to open the bathroom door without banging into the vanity. Sheer heaven. However, in the meantime, we have construction going on, in the house, where I spend approximately 23 hours a day.

First we had a giant hole in the backyard for the foundation. That lasted about 2 weeks, with a giant pile of dirt, no backyard to play in, and a frustrating lack of progress. Then suddenly there was a floor, then walls--progress! Of course, we had a rainstorm in there that caused the entire basement to flood at 5 AM on a Monday morning. And the giant pile of dirt was "graded" all over the backyard, killing the strawberries and most of the lawn. And we lost power to the garage. And we have no outside water, so it takes about 50 watering cans and many trips to the sink to water the garden. But that's progress!

Along with the progress, of course, came messes. So first Ezra had to move out of his room and into ours. Just one big happy family--all in one room. He contends that he's afraid of the dark, so we have to sleep with a giant night light, which wakes Matilda fairly often, and I keep waking up disoriented by the light. Still, progress!

Then Monday of this week, they gutted the bathroom. So we had to empty out all the accumulated crap in the bathroom (Sudafed that expired two years ago? Can that still be good?) and create a temporary shower in the basement. Nothing like showering next to the washing machine and the dog's kennel to make you feel sexy and refreshed. And when they gutted the bathroom, they knocked a lot of sawdust and sheet rock all over the downstairs bathroom and the pantry, but we can clean that up, right? Progress!

Then they had to cut a hole on the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom so they could get to the pipes. This is a slight mess, and I couldn't use the bathroom for about 7 hours without asking a guy I've only just met to move his ladder so I can pee. That's not such a problem. But they did have to cut a hole in the floor of the upstairs bathroom so they can move pipes around, meaning that I can (and nearly did) sit on the toilet and look up and see the feet of my contractor, his assistant, the plumber, the electrician, and whoever else has stopped by to see the mess that is my house. Plus they had to move our bed into the middle of the room so they could get into the crawlspace, which means that our bed, Ezra's bed, and Matilda's crib are all now pretty much touching in the middle of the bedroom. But that's the price for progress, right?

And did I mention my underwear? You would be right to wonder how that could possibly figure in, but it's really quite logical. You see, I am a slob and we have a bedroom in the basement. For these reasons, I don't really keep close track of my clothes as I discard them. I kick them around for a few days and then gather them up on laundry day. It's a system that has served me well and that my husband has more or less learned to live with. It is also a system that does not account for the massive numbers of people who will be wandering through my bedroom, to deal with a leak, to cut holes in the ceiling, to crawl out through windows. And it is, of course, only after they've all been wandering through there for several days that I realize that my bra is hanging on a hook next to the bathroom door and I've got a pile of underwear on my dresser. Progress, dammit!

And the roof. We mustn't forget the real icing on this "burn it down and buy a new one; heck, in this economy, they're practically free anyway" cake. As they were assembling the roof for the addition, the contractor came and grabbed me one afternoon (I was probably nursing at the time; my dignity is so long gone with these people) and asked if I could come take a look at something. I was unprepared for the suggestion that I climb up onto the roof. But once I was (in most undignified fashion) settled up there, he proceeded to show me that our roof has signs of major wind and hail damage. Since I was up on a roof and don't know what they're supposed to look like anyway, I immediately agreed and called the insurance company. Many phone calls later, an insurance adjustor arrived and informed us that it was mild damage and he was going to recommend a repair, not a replacement. Since then, we've had him try to find a matching shingle (he says he did, but it clearly doesn't match our current shingles), my husband has cussed out the adjustor and our insurance agent, we've had several estimates for the roof repair, I've gone back and played "good cop" with the insurance agent and managed to get the case appealed to another adjustor, and I've called our friendly adjustor to tell him that his so-called "matching" shingle isn't going to work (if there is no match, it seems they have to pay to replace them all). And while all this is going on? Sure, our roof is in need of replacement; we knew we'd only be able to make it another year or two. But on the addition, we only have a tarp. We can't pick shingles for the addition until we know what's going on the rest of the roof. So when it rained the other night, we had to fill the boys' room and the bathroom with wading pools and laundry tubs to catch the rain where it leaks, because though they're almost complete rooms, they have no roof! But it's all in the name of goddamned progress!

And you want to know what the saddest part is? (Arguably the saddest part is that I would think that anyone would want to read about my home improvement woes, but we're going to set that aside for the time being.) It has taken me three days to write this post. Little by little, my house has been whittled away to almost nothing as the bathroom and Ezra's room have entirely ceased to be, the backyard is mostly unusable, and with all the plumbing activity taking place in our bedroom, Matilda has been napping in Zachary's room. Zachary has only been out of school for the summer for a couple of weeks, and he and Ezra are completely on top of each other. Not only are they used to having more time apart, but they're used to being able to get away from one another when they're both home. So now my days seem to consist entirely of "stop that," "give that back," and "if you do that one more time, so help me, you will spend the rest of your life in time out and we will never go outside again!" (I've actually said that. Not my finest moment.)

Someday all this will be done, and I will almost certainly (please, please, please) be glad we did it. But until then, I time my bathroom visits for when there's no work going on, put out buckets when it rains, and try not to think about how great it was when all I was upset about was how many people wanted to be in the bathroom with me. Unlike the legs that threaten to appear in the bathroom these days, at least they're related to me.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Taking a Bite Out of Crime--or other people

Well, yes, I did disappear off the face of the earth, but only for about a week. We had a terrific camping vacation full of all kinds of interesting stories about my cute kids and hiking with a stroller and the evil that is tent caterpillars.

But is that what finally got me to the computer? No, of course not. It was Matilda and her incessant biting of her friends. I've kept thinking it was a phase, every time she would bite another little girl I watch, who is 10 months old and her closest playmate. She was teething, or she had an ear infection, or there was some other excuse. But today I thought she'd been doing a really good job of being gentle, touching her friends with her gentle hands to show me what a good baby she was, and yet when they got home, her mom called to tell me that she had a big bite mark on her arm!

So how did I not notice that? I'm a little upset, first, because I swear I looked her over several times to make sure there was nothing I hadn't seen. But possibly worse, will she ever stop this? I've never had a biter; Zachary is really easygoing and is more likely to cry than to lash out (though he did get in trouble for hitting at school the other day--but that's another story). And Ezra is a fighter, but he's been one to scratch, and the kid he used to scratch would hit back just as hard, so there was no real sense that my kid was being a bully.

She's got her 15-month-checkup tomorrow, and I've also registered for a class on toddler biting. But I think at the heart of it is this feeling that my kid, my baby, is somehow bad, that only bad kids bite, and I've failed her and everyone else. My wonderful, beautiful, last baby is a biter! And my day care mom (who's kind of been becoming a friend) is upset--understandably. And I just feel like everything that's wrong in the world is wrapped up in my baby girl and the things she continues to do with her teeth.

I need a vacation from my family.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Fortress of Solitude

I have recently realized something: I am never going to be really alone in the bathroom again.

When I was about 22, I moved into a miniscule apartment in downtown Minneapolis. It was the first time I'd ever lived alone--no roommates, no parents, no nothing. Just me and 200 or so square feet. So I immediately went out and got a cat--apparently it was vital that I start living up to crazy-cat-lady stereotypes right away. Many things happened, of course, when I was living in that apartment. The battery on my phone died as I was talking to my dad after I'd only been living there a few days, and he sped the entire half hour from his house, to come make sure I was okay. I sublet my apartment to a coworker and moved to LA for three months (three of the most painful months ever, but that's another story). I met the man who would become my husband. And I learned to pee with the door open.

Now, as a woman, and a pretty self-conscious one at that, closing the door when I entered the bathroom was kind of a requirement. But if you've ever had a kitten who was somewhat over attached to you, you know what happens if you try to close the bathroom door. First comes the whining, then the scratching, then the incredibly pathetic little paw starts feeling around under the door, trying to figure out where you've gone and how to get you back. So rather than dealing with that every time I wanted to go to the bathroom, I started just leaving the door open. It was an incredibly freeing development in my life. I even started wandering around my apartment (sometimes) naked (partly). I couldn't turn into a free-thinking nudist overnight, but it was a big change for me nonetheless.

Of course, when I met my husband, I realized that I was still the kind of person who would prefer to close the door. I can live with a cat wandering around the sink while I pee, but I can't be one of those "I'm on the toilet while you're brushing your teeth and we're both fine with this" people. We moved in together a few months after I got back from LA, and while we were living together, his father stayed with us for several weeks after he had a stroke. He moved back into his own apartment later, but when we decided to buy a house, we concluded that having him move in with us was a good idea for everyone involved. Another reason to be a "bathroom door closed" kind of person.

Now we've come to a point I probably could not have envisioned when I was trying to get the cat to leave the bathroom door alone. My father-in-law's bedroom is across the hall from the bathroom. I have three small children who apparently cannot exist unless they are interacting with me in some way. I usually have a house full of other people's children, who are in all likelihood fighting with one or more of my kids. And the bathroom door? Well, until recently, I was convinced it was the one thing separating me--just for a few minutes--from all that. Right? I don't get to take leisurely baths; I don't even get showers without a 5-year-old suddenly needing to potty the second I turn the water on. I don't have a commute to complain about the other drivers while secretly enjoying this time that doesn't belong to my family or my employer. I don't have a bedroom to disappear to; while I do officially have a bedroom, it's shared by our daughter until the addition to the house is complete. So I am not out of line to expect that I get to go potty without interruption.

Except it seems that I am. One of the things about the blogosphere is that it's like having lots and lots of mom friends, and you can ask them anything you want or listen to them rant about anything they want, as though you had this endless back fence you can talk over anytime you want. And one thing I keep running up against is that no mom in the world can claim that she is left alone in the bathroom. There is always a kid who needs you the very moment you close the door, a dog who is scratching at the door, a spouse who doesn't understand that maybe you don't want to answer any questions right now.

I know that someday my kids will want to be left alone, that I will not think of the bathroom as the only place in the house I can hide. Someday I will miss them. I will bug them in their rooms when they just want to close the door and be left alone for a little while. I know that I ought to cherish these years, when they just want to be near me. But inside, I will grieve for the bathroom I once knew, the place I could think my thoughts, my onetime fortress of solitude.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bruce Wayne's Car

So first the big news: This morning, for the first time ever, Ezra pooped in the potty! We were sitting on the couch when he announced that during nap time, he was probably going to poop in his underpants (fortunately, I do put him in a pull-up during naps, since that happens often). So I suggested, if he was planning to do it, that we try now. He was pretty iffy about the whole idea until I suggested that, like his friend who has been learning to poop in the potty, if he does it successfully, I would take him to the store and get him a new toy. Well, that was all the pushing he needed! It took a couple of minutes and a couple of tries, but he did it! I was extremely proud of him and think that we may go the "pooping chart" route that worked with his friend. This little boy had to fill his chart (the size varied; I think the first charts had only a few squares, then as he got more proficient, he had to do more to fill it), and when it was full, he would earn a toy. Usually the toy was preselected, and often it was already purchased and sitting in plain sight, like on top of the refrigerator. Ezra has really wanted a toy of Frank from the movie "CARS," but it's a little expensive for just a random toy, so I think maybe I'll try that as an incentive.

So after this big news, we had to call Daddy at work. Ezra got to tell Daddy his big news, and he got to talk on the phone--very exciting. Then after we had hung up, Ezra got pretty worked up because he saw something out the window that he wanted to tell Daddy about--Bruce Wayne's car.

I was understandably confused about why the Batmobile might be parked out in front of our house, but I got it in a minute. Our next-door neighbor's name is Wayne, and he delivers pizzas. This means that his car has a topper on it with the name of the pizza restaurant. Zachary is very obsessed with Batman right now, and Ezra is obsessed with whatever Zachary is obsessed with. So when he saw our neighbor, Wayne, pull up in front of his house in his pizza delivery car, Ezra concluded that it was "Bruce Wayne's car."

Maybe I ought to worry that Ezra seems to know more about a fictional superhero than he does about our next-door neighbor, but I still think it's cute.

Stupid Layouts

Well, it occurred to me finally that though I liked my old layout, it wasn't the most interesting thing in the world. And though I may not myself actually be the most interesting thing in the world, I like to think that I am at least a little interesting, and it would be nice if the appearance of my blog reflected that. So off I went in search of a new layout for my blog.

And then I was immediately reminded of two things: one, the world (as it is represented by the inernet) is an extremely big place. And two: I am not good at anything more technologically advanced than an egg beater. So it took me most of my free time yesterday (which is probably a couple of hours in real time), but I did find a layout that I liked and that seemed to function with the limited instructions I was able to give it. ("Here. Go here. Be Pretty.")

So please let me know what you think. How does it look? Should I just go back to the old look? Does the new one work on computers other than mine? Are you there, Internet? It's me, Kendra. Any and all feedback is appreciated, since it lets me know I'm not completely talking to myself here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Things My Mother Taught Me

Several years ago, I wrote this essay. I submitted it to a parenting magazine and, in one of the more humiliating events in my life, received only a smudged photocopy of their submission guidelines in response. After scouring the document, I confirmed that it did in fact meet their guidelines; I don't know why they chose to send me that. But I was thinking of it this morning and still like it. So in honor of Mother's Day (because there's no way I will remember to post this on the actual day): Things My Mother Taught Me

When I was a little girl, I always looked at the cover of the coloring book to see what color the pictures should be. Then as closely as I could, I matched them. To me, staying inside the lines was an accomplishment to be proud of. And imitation was the closest thing to perfection.

I never mixed the play-dough. Such a thing would never have occurred to me. My creations were always of a single color, dismantled and returned to their canisters before they had a chance to dry.

Then one day, when I was about seven years old, my mother sat down with me at my little table to color with me. I remember clearly, it was a Tom and Jerry coloring book, and calm as can be, she started to color Tom purple. I was in shock that such a thing was even possible. There, right before my eyes, my mother was creating a lavender cat. It was my first inkling that the right way was not the only way to do something.

Last week, I was playing with my 11-month-old son in his room. He has several wooden puzzles with farm animals and food-shaped pieces. He had recently discovered that there were pictures underneath the pieces and was enthralled with the process of removing the pieces, one by one, from their puzzles. He would then hold them up, examine them, sometimes suck on them. I found myself asking him again and again, "Where does the cow go? Can you find the cow?" I even guided the pieces to their correct places and applauded when they fit. And suddenly I remembered my mother coloring Tom purple.

Now that I am a mother, I have the opportunity to shape my son's view of the world. I can teach him that there is only one way to do everything, or I can show him that there are a million ways to look at a problem and there are a million solutions. Putting pieces into puzzles is one way to play with them. Sucking on them, banging them together, and putting them into drawers are others. And are they any less useful? When I color the cat purple, I am showing my baby that he can do anything he wants, that the borders of thought and action aren't closed. I am letting him try out life and see what works. I am letting him mix the play-dough.

He will figure out what cows are and what they say and how they fit into the puzzle. That will come with time, I have no doubt. But more importantly, he will figure out who he is, what he has to say, and where he fits into the world.

When my mother colored that cat purple, I'm sure she was thinking only that it was pretty. But she taught me a lesson that day, one that I will be sure to pass on to my son: No matter what they tell you, there is more than one way to color a cat.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I Have Twouble Saying My Awes

I can't seem to decide whether I ought to worry about Zachary's speech.

See, my mom is a speech therapist, and she's always been all about correcting his pronunciation. When he was little, for some reason, all words that started with "sn" became pronounced as though they started with a T. So "snake" was "take," "snow" was "tow," etc. It was endearing and, as long as you understood what the system was, easily understood. He also converted "sm" sounds to P, so if there was a fire, there would be "poke" coming from it. My mom would notice this and make these exaggerated sounds when she talked to him: "You want to play in the s-n-o-w? The s-s-n-n-ow?" And I would roll my eyes and think, "He's 3, for crying out loud." And of course, he outgrew it.

Now he's 5 1/2, and he still has trouble with certain sounds. All the sounds in a certain family, the G, the J, and the SH sounds, seem to get the better of him. They all sound like S or Z sounds. It can make him a little hard to understand but you can usually get what he means. The most noticeable one, which seems to be rooted in an actual misunderstanding, is that most of the "th" sounds come out as Fs. So he "frows" the ball. He actually writes them that way. And since he's in kindergarten, my mom's voice starts whispering in my ear, telling me the time has come to help him talk right. So I had a talk with him and asked if he would like help listening to words so he could write them better, and he said yes. So I told him that "free" is actually "three," and he's been practicing it. For a while, I was all proud of him, listening to his speech improve, thinking my mom and her over-helping can kiss my good-mom butt. Then I started listening: "Free. Three. Three. Thirteen. Firteen. Thirteen." And my heart broke just a little. Is this what I've created? A kid who is worried, at 5 years old, that he doesn't talk the way he should?

When my sister was little (I don't remember exactly how old, but about Zachary's age), she had trouble with certain sounds too. And so, the story goes, she marched into the school speech therapist's office and announced, "I have twouble saying my awes." And, because the story is about how cute and determined she was, she was saying her Rs perfectly in no time. It's been one of those family legends about my sister's determination and ability to overcome things, even as a little kid. But now it makes me wonder: Was that her desire to talk better, or was there a voice whispering in her ear that she ought to do things better? Would she have sorted it out on her own, the same way she learned to walk and use proper grammar on her own schedule?

Tonight during his bath, Zachary must have counted to 500. Or rather, he counted to 100 about five times, since he's not sure what comes after 199, so he tends to start over. And as I listened to him go back and forth between the "frees" and the "threes," I felt so confused. Should I be helping him to reach some developmental milestone that I'm not entirely sure about anyway? Am I doing him a disservice, either by helping or by not helping? Is my desire to meet my mom's expectations, coupled with my desire to prove her wrong, getting in the way?

I asked his teacher at conferences, and she said there are other kids with more pronounced difficulty than his. I'm not sure that comforted me. I guess perspective is a pretty hard thing to come by in this world of terrorist threats and swine flu, and parenting questions are no exception.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pants Optional

It's been brought to my attention that Ezra almost never wears pants. I mean, seriously, he never wears pants. Somehow, since he is: 3, at home with me, and extremely strong willed, I haven't made a big deal about it. But maybe the time has come.

We're working on potty training, which means that some time after he gets up in the morning, I get him out of the (with any luck) poopy diaper and into underpants and a clean shirt. He's currently convinced that he can't poop on the potty, so I'm not making a big deal of that at the moment. So every morning, I say, "Pick out a shirt and underpants." And every morning, he answers, "I don't want pants, though." And since I convince myself that he's more likely to have potty success with fewer barriers to making it to the toilet on time, I agree. But this morning, I realized I'd really set up a system, when he added, "But after nap, when Zachary gets home from school, I'll put on pants and we'll go outside."

So I've apparently established a system where you don't have to wear pants, as long as you're in the house. How is this going to play out in the next few years? Will I convince him to wear pants to school, only to have him take them off as soon as he gets inside because, hey, we're not outside? Will he disrobe in front of his girlfriend's parents, explaining, "I don't like to wear pants"? Will he have to find employment in a pants-optional office?

Considering that we are talking about Ezra here, that's actually a possibility. The kid's got more force of personality than anyone I've ever met, including his father, which is saying something. But I figure I've got a few years before the kid with no pants on becomes an actual problem. Until then, he can go pants free--except when we leave the house. Then we all wear pants.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu Means

"Swine flu means you shouldn't go around licking pigs."

That was Ezra's thought upon seeing this picture my mom emailed me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In Other News

Okay, I feel kind of bitchy about that last post. I'm still not happy about it, but I love my dad and would someday like to have a relationship with his wife again. It will never be the way it was, but I know I can either spend my life being angry about it or I can stop being angry and start feeling better.

So here is some other news.

First of all, Matilda has been giving kisses the last couple of days. She selects her victim, uh, recipient, and waddles up to them. Usually it's another kid, so she wraps her arms around his neck and pulls him in tight. The first time she did this, I was nervous, since she's had a bit of a biting habit in the past. But once she's got a firm hold, she plants a giant, open, slobbery mouth on top of her friend's head. Then she smiles at me to make sure that I know what a wonderful friend she is. Of course, I'm sure to let her know that I do know what a nice person she is, which usually leads to more kissing. I'm still always a little nervous that she's going to bite or strangle, but the thought is there. (As I am writing, Zachary and Ezra are standing at the dining room table playing play-doh. Matilda just took the opportunity to walk up and kiss Zachary's bottom.)

Second, I received 6 separate emails today about swine flu. Three of them were from our health insurance company, and three were from child care organizations. Let me summarize the information they contained: There is this thing called swine flu. It's not like the regular flu, so your flu shot? Worthless. It's really dangerous but so far only in Mexico. If you get sick, don't come to work, because that could make others sick. If you're a day care provider, tell parents if their kids get the swine flu, they shouldn't come to day care. The best way to prevent it is by washing your hands. Seriously? For this, they emailed me six times? If you have a vaccine or a cure or a case in my town, that warrants six emails. But "wash your hands"? I think I could have figured that one out on my own. And no, no day care parents have been asking about my swine flu policies. I know perspective can be a difficult thing to come by, but it doesn't help to have 35 channels screaming that we're all going to die (maybe) and getting the same advice we get for preventing the common cold.

Finally--and definitely best--my mom called this morning to say that my brother had called her. He wants to know if he can give his girlfriend the ring my dad gave my mom for their 30th anniversary. She said she wanted to ask me and my sister before she told him it was okay, so no one felt slighted. I told her of course it was okay, that I think it's an absolutely beautiful gesture. He's been saying for years that he can never get married, because with mom and dad in such bad shape, how would he manage the wedding? I think that concern faded a few years ago, but I think it was replaced by a very real fear of marriage--that if his parents' marriage could turn into this mess, what would happen to his? So we learned never to ask if they were ever going to get married. They live together, and he just got a job in New Orleans, and it's been understood that she would go too. But we were never allowed to ask about permanence. And now my baby brother's going to get married! She made it very clear that this is a big secret, but this is the advantage to not actually telling anyone you know about your blog: you get to spill the beans, because if anyone reads this, who are you going to tell?

So even in this messy world that makes me so mad sometimes, good things happen. And I'm so grateful.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Dad's Marriage(s): Part 1

I felt it was appropriate to title this one "Part 1" because I know this is going to be one of those stories that, even though you think it's done, there's really more.

Let me begin with the most basic information. My parents were married--to one another--all my life. I was born (several weeks early after an unplanned conception--yay me!) a little over a year after they got married. I grew up as one of the only kids I knew whose parents were married to one another. It wasn't the greatest marriage in the world, but I figured they were doing a good job, because they were still together. I always knew, although it was almost never discussed, that my dad had been married before. It was short lived and there were no kids. In fact, it was very shortly after his first marriage ended that he met my mom; the story went that he was visiting a friend to "get over" his divorce, and they threw a dart at a map to decide where to go. It landed on Crystal Ice Caves, where my mom was a tour guide. And the rest was history. Until 2005, when, a month before Ezra was born, my dad announced that he was moving out. There had been stirrings in the marital waters to be sure; in 1997, when I was studying abroad for six months, we learned that he'd had an affair with one of his (graduate) students for pretty much the entire time. There had been speculation, mostly between the siblings, that this wasn't the first time. But officially things were back on track. And then suddenly they weren't. Officially they were taking a break, he was going to "find himself" or something for a year while living on his own, but it was pretty quickly clear to everyone but my mom that he wasn't looking back.

He told us all that this was a hard time for him, that he was really a private person who'd been living for the last 30 years as though he were a very social person. He was trying to be true to himself, to be the fundamentally alone person that he was. And no, there was no way on earth that he was seeing someone--not now, not while he was still with Mom, not at all. Those rumors that he was dating my friend--the one who had coincidentally gotten a divorce around the time he moved out, the one who was his student, the one who had kind of stopped calling me? Those rumors were completely false, and it was kind of insulting that we would think otherwise.

Until the day he told me they were true. And they were getting married. And, as I have tried over and over to explain to him, I don't have excesses of friends or family. And my dear friend, the first one to visit me in the hospital after Zachary was born, the first friend I'd made at my first grown-up job, the one with a daughter 9 months older than Zachary, my friend and my dad had chosen one another over me.

There's more, of course. There's always more. But that continues to be a crux of the situation for me. My mom is hurt and angry and insists that the only thing we can do to help is "be loyal." My brother, who has always looked up to my dad, is not speaking to him. My sister is sick of being the one my mom turns to, sick of being the one to take care of her and tell her it's going to be all right. And I'm the pushover, the easy one, the one who's always been closest to him--and terrifyingly, most like him in personality. And I'm the one they betrayed most, at least more than my siblings. And though I haven't actually spoken to her since all this happened, he has never once apologized. He's said he understands that people are hurt and it's too bad that things worked out that way, but he's never once said, "That must really be hard on you. I wish you hadn't beem hurt like that. I'm sorry."

Friday, April 24, 2009

I smelled the chemicals and that's how I knew

I had this roommate in college, Gwen, who was this really unusual mix of trying too hard to be different and genuinely being different. She was pre-med, very scientific mind. But she also wore this long red velvet cloak all the time and hung out at the Renaissance Festival. She also claimed to be a wiccan, which frankly has colored my impression of all other people I've met who claim to be wiccan. It didn't seem to be so much an identity or a religion, so much as a thing she could call herself when she wanted to stand out: "Don't mess with me, I'm a witch," and so on.

But the thing that always amazed me was that in addition to all this trying to hard to be different, she was genuinely different in some of the most amazing (though not always good) ways. I first met her when I was a freshman in college and a friend of mine had had it with her assigned roommate, so she moved into the on-campus apartments. She was assigned three roommates there, two other freshmen and Gwen, a sophomore. Gwen was a whole year older than us and way more experienced in just about everything. She was an EMT and worked odd hours and knew boys and stuff. So she was the one we went to with all our problems. For example, one winter morning Gwen had worked late the night before and was passed out in the bedroom. Her three roommates were up and around, making toast for breakfast. Suddenly, the toaster caught on fire. It was placed under the cabinet in the kitchen and flames were shooting up out of the toaster and touching the cabinets. In a fit of terror, the girls ran into the bedroom and started screaming, "The toaster's on fire! The toaster's on fire!" Gwen rolled over, said, "Put it out," and covered her head with the pillow. They ran back into the kitchen and, seeing the toaster still shooting flames, turned around and ran back into the bedroom, screaming. Gwen realized they weren't going to stop, so she got out of bed, stumbled into the kitchen, ripped the toaster out of the wall, walked out onto the balcony, threw the toaster off the balcony and into the snow, and went back to sleep. Saved the day, classic Gwen style.

A few years later, Gwen and I shared a house near campus with three other friends, five of us there altogether. And by this time, she had developed some truly strange habits. Now, granted, we were not the neatest people you'd want to meet. I don't know that we vacuumed the entire year we were in that house, and the dishes just piled up until we ran out. Then it was an entire day (there were A LOT of dishes in that house) of washing disgusting smelly dishes. But Gwen had her ownthing going on. A favorite was that she liked to keep her cheese in the couch. I'm completely serious. She would buy a block of cheddar cheese and stick it in a zip-loc bag, then she would shove the plastic bag between the cushions of the couch. She insisted, "I like my cheese warm." And that in itself wouldn't have been so terrible if she hadn't always included a knife with it. So you never knew, when you sat down on the couch, whether you were going to be stabbed in the ass by a cheese knife.

She also had a propensity for falling asleep on the couch and just staying there. One night our roommate had been bartending all night and was finally coming home. But this night was special, because she'd had a long-term crush on a friend of ours (who had been briefly, painfully engaged to another one of our roommates). He'd hung out at the bar all evening with her and was now coming home with her. This wasn't so unusual since many of the people in our large group of friends often ended up coming over after the bar closed, but this was the first time it had been just the two of them. When they walked into the house, there was Gwen, asleep on the living room sofa. She was wearing a peasant dress and nylons, nothing else--and the dress had hiked itself up to her armpits. So my poor friend grabbed kitchen tongs and used them to lift the blanket back over Gwen while she slept; it did not turn out to be the most romantic evening. (In case you're wondering, yes, they did get together eventually; it was always rocky and he finally broke up with her via email.)

Another time she was sleeping on the couch, we decided all of a sudden to pln a party--a themed party. So as we were coming up with storybook characters for people to dress as, we thought of the Seven Dwarfs, from Snow White: Dopey, Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Doc, and someone else. I always forget the name of the other dwarf, and neither of us could remember it. So we ran into the living room to ask Gwen. We shouted at her, "Gwen, what was the name of the seventh dwarf?" The logical question would have been, "Which six have you already named?" But that wasn't her style. She definitively announced, "Pinchy Smurf." And that was her nickname for years.

But the best ever sleeping-on-the-couch quote was heard by me alone. I had been tending bar and came home later to find her passed out in her usual spot. I probably said hello or "Are you ever going to get off the couch?" or something like that. And she mumbled, "10... 9... out of 10 birds are dead. I smelled the chemicals... and that's how I knew." It seemed to sum up something, although I've never been certain what it was.

It's been more than 10 years since I last saw her, and I still think of that quote all the time. My husband, whom I met years after losing touch with her, will sometimes repeat it. I hope she no longer keeps her cheese in the couch and that she sometimes sleeps in a bed these days. But I hope she still offers up such entertaining nuggets of wisdom.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Good One, God!

So remember all the sobbing on the floor after the hitting the head? (I still have a big red scab there, by the way--very sexy.) This was followed by much crying about pretty much nothing, leading to a few possibilities: one, my medication isn't working. Since I'm on an insanely high dosage of antidepressants, I hesitate even to think that's an option. In fact, I was just thinking that it was about time to talk to my psychiatrist about lowering my dosage, now that all the having babies and other stressors are done with. Two: maybe I'm just crazy. This is a logical next step in my head, that if I'm not dealing well with whatever is going on around me, I must therefore be "broken." That was mostly what I had concluded until... this afternoon, in a moment that confirms that God has a sense of humor, I got my period!

Now, this might not be very exciting news, but for a few things. One, it does seem to explain a lot; I've just been been PMS'ing. But I'm nursing, and I have a body (and kids) such that I don't get a period for a year or so after baby is born, what with the refual to sleep in their own beds and such. Additionally, I've been on the pill since, oh, 1999. Seriously. When we got married in 2002, I decided to switch brands over to the good-for-your-skin one before the wedding. Dumbass. I spent our honeymoon dealing with spotting and finally decided to go off it for a month or two and reset my system; I was pregnant before I got my first period off the pill. (We had been planning to try "soon," just hadn't decided on "immediately.") I went on the mini-pill as soon as he was born and was on it until he was 15 months old. I was pregnant within a month. I lost that pregnancy but was pregnant within a month after that. (3 C-sections; my body dearly loves to make babies, and it would keep them forever if it could.) After Ezra was born, I went back on the mini-pill and then onto the regular one. It was while I was on that pill that I got pregnant with Matilda. (Yes, I obviously screwed up somewhere; everyone asks if I forgot to take it. Apparently I did. And of course, I will be forever grateful that I did, since if I had been more responsible, I would be missing one of the things that makes my life whole.) After Matilda was born, I had my tubes tied.

So you see, I have not been without strange hormones of some kind coursing through my veins in about 10 years. I've been pregnant or on the pill pretty much the entire time. And I'm terrified. I first started the pill because of the severity of my periods, and now they're back, with no artificial hormones to dampen them down? (Could I even go back on the pill now, if they're intolerable? Would they think I was crazy if I tried?)

What's more, we're leaving tomorrow for the weekend. It's not a romantic getaway, at least there's that. And we're not camping. My potential discomfort would put a real damper on the outdoor experience. No, instead, my husband, three children, and father-in-law are driving 3 hours to visit my husband's brother (who we see a couple of times a year) and his wife. So for the next few days, I will be dealing with cramps, diarrhea, cold sweats, and all the shit that goes with something I was so grateful not to have to deal with for the last, well, two years at least. And I'm going to do it all while dealing with extended family who don't know me very well and make me nervous at the best of times. I'll be placating everyone, watching the little kids while my husband takes Zachary into the hotel swimming pool, being the good daughter-in-law and making sure his dad has everything he needs, and generally trying not to think about how much I wish I was alone, in my bed, with a novel and a glass of wine.

God, you crack me up!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I hate all things sharp and pointy

That's it, I am clearing out the house. At the curb, I am placing all things pointy. Forks, knives, pens, scissors, all yours for the taking. Everything must go. Especially shelves that stick out of the wall at forehead level and then attack without warning when all you did was drop a can of juice that you were trying to put in the recycling like a responsible person until you bent down to pick it up and then--wham! On the floor, sobbing, for five minutes.

It had been a cruddy afternoon. No one was listening to a word I said, then they decided to pull out every single puzzle. Some time ago, I took all our jigsaw puzzles of 100 pieces or so and put them in zip-loc bags and put the bags in a plastic tub. Clever storage, no? Yes, until they decide to open the tub, take out every puzzle, and open the puzzles on the floor in Ezra's room. I told them several times that as soon as all the puzzles were picked up, we could go outside. But every time I turned around, there were more. So I was near the end of my rope anyway. I decided to take a break from the puzzle-related anger and make more juice. And then came the dreaded shelf to the forehead. I was bending over, didn't realize it was right there, and now I have a giant, red, swollen rectangle on my forehead. It hurt enough to justify some serious swearing, but probably not the actual crying that ensued. I just couldn't believe that the world was being that mean to me today--and that the house full of children, whose owies I kiss, whose butts I clean, whose fights I referee, not one of them asked if I was okay, as I lay on the floor crying.

That was several hours ago, and it still hurts. When I suggested that it would be a good night for a pizza, my husband reminded me that we're going out of town this weekend and will be eating out for several meals. Of course, he's not doing any cooking tonight, so what does he care? My head hurts, and no one is being nice to me. Zachary and Ezra are playing "sneak up tp Mommy and pull her hair, because we're spies... or something." Matilda is following them around and getting pushed over occasionally. They need baths, and I don't feel like giving them. I'm so cranky and really want someone to take over my jobs--all my stupid keeping-everything-in-this-house-clean-and-alive jobs--for just a few hours.

On second throught, maybe I won't put all the pointy things out on the curb. Maybe I'll just sit out there. Maybe someone will offer to take me away, or maybe I'll just get a little time to myself.